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Constantine, the Cross Of

The paragraph entitled Labarum on page 557 was based on Eusebius, the earliest of the chroniclers of the Christian Church, and the biographer of the Emperor Constantine. Since that paragraph was written a very large quantity of Greek (Koine) MSS. dating from the First to the Fifth Centuries have been recovered by archeologists, notably in the Fayum, once a prosperous Greek-speaking district in an irrigated tract on the Egyptian border. Since these were records written at the time their weight as evidence cannot be ignored.

These documents sustain Eusebius in general outline, but make the story of Constantine's use of the monogram much more complex. He did not originate it.

The legend of his vision rests on very insecure grounds, partly because though the Athanasians won control at the Council of Nicea, which Constantine had called, and had condemned the Arians as non-Christians, Constantine himself remained an Arian throughout his life until shortly before his death.

The original labarum was not so much a banner as a portrait on cloth, showing Constantines head surrounded by a halo, which was probably designed to be carried as a substitute for his own presence. The halo and the monogram together may have denoted that he was head of the whole Christian world. An old legend has it that his mother, Queen Helen, was an English woman, and that she had discovered the true cross. Long after the death of Constantine the Bishop of Rome produced a document in which the Emperor had willed his headship of the Christian world to Rome; the authenticity of this "Donation of Constantine" was upheld by Rome for centuries. It is proved to have been a forgery, written two hundred years after Constantine; Roman Catholic scholars themselves are agreed on this. For a succinct account see last edition of Encyclopedia Britannia. For full details see Medieval Italy, a brilliant work, by H. B. Cotterill; London; Geo. C. Harrap; 1915.

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